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Let’s Talk About Byron Buxton’s Swing

There’s something amazing about Byron Buxton at the plate this season.

Data confirms your suspicions that Buxton is indeed hitting the ball harder, further and higher on a consistent basis than ever before. By hitting the ball harder, further and higher than ever before, he is the proud owner of a juicy .275/.335/.514 line while striking out in a career-low 23 percent of plate appearances through 43 games. In terms of OPS, he’s the third-best hitter among center fielders behind only Mike Trout and George Springer.

This is a new-look Buxton even if you aren’t sure what exactly looks new.

When Buxton was using the leg kick, you could see the leg kick. When he stopped using the leg kick, you could clearly see he was no longer using the leg kick. It was an obvious distinction. However, there are possibly no more significant changes that Buxton has made to his swing than the changes he made for 2019.

Allow me to explain.
Image courtesy of Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
This spring, as Buxton strolled into camp with a new swing, he proudly proclaimed -- channeling his inner Frank Sinatra -- that he did it his way.

“It’s my swing, my thought process, my thinking, everything with my swing now is me,” he told Dan Hayes of The Athletic. “I didn’t go to no hitting coach, I didn’t go work out with nobody, I worked out by myself, I hit by myself and that’s where it’s going to stay.”

Whether Buxton made all the changes alone, applied some direction from James Rowson and other coaches on staff, had secretly hired a team of tech nerds to design an algorithm that would lead to the world’s most optimal mechanics, or has a magic hitting cow that whispers tips from outside the cage, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that Buxton has truly unlocked something.

There’s undoubtedly been an ebb and flow surrounding Byron Buxton and whether he has FOUND IT offensively dating back to the end of 2016 when he hit 9 home runs in September after returning with a massive leg kick in his swing.

(That’s good!)

But, while still using the leg kick, he lost whatever IT was in early 2017.

(That’s bad.)

But then he found IT again later that season after much soul-searching and Molitor prodding to ditch the leg kick.

(That’s good.)

Then it turns out he broke a big toe, hurt his wrist and everything else in 2018 and couldn’t hit water falling out of a boat.

(Can I go now?)

Based on that track record, proclaiming that he has FOUND IT is going to be met with skepticism. While that is a natural human emotion, what follows is granular swing biomechanics that should confirm that Byron Buxton has indeed FOUND IT again -- and possibly for good this time.

As previously mentioned, these changes are not as obvious as his leg kick-no leg kick on again/off-again Ross-and-Rachel relationship. That said, there are several adaptations in Buxton’s swing that stand out as significant drivers for his early season statistical success.

The first driver was creating a stretch point in his swing prior to the launch.

As noted this spring, Buxton adjusted his mechanics to create separation from his top half and lower half. Previously Buxton would step and swing in one motion. It was a constant drift forward which denied him time to recognize a pitch as well as build tension. Now, when he steps forward, his hands go back and hold for a nanosecond. This creates resistance. This move helps reduce slack in his midsection, giving him a rubber band effect between his hands and his front leg. There’s stored tension in his abdomen at his launch point that helps connect the energy in his lower and upper half.

Look at Buxton at the launch point last year versus this year:



Not long after I posted this video in March, the Star Tribune’s Lavelle Neal scoffed at me in a Fort Myers bar. There’s no way that does much of anything he told me. Beside, he said, you can’t even see much of a difference. It’s hard to argue with the Mayor of Fort Myers but I did my best explaining why that was important.

True, this may seem like a minor change but the ability to generate power is contingent on utilizing all the muscles. Buxton added mass this offseason but that alone won’t create pop if the swing is not optimized. This year, by gaining that tension point, he has applied more force which has led to an increase in his exit velocity from 86.8 to 92.4. In his overall pool of batted balls, in 2018, 29 percent of his balls in play were hit 95+ mph compared to 46 percent so far this year.

The second driver relates to his ability to lift the ball.

In 2018 Buxton had an average launch angle of 10.7 degrees. With a below average launch angle, it is no surprise that he maintained a ground ball rate of 49 percent. Since the beginning of his major league career, Buxton has had a ground ball rate of over 40 percent each season. If he were to take steps forward in his career and put up numbers that were more super unicorn of him, he would need to hit the ball hard in the air.

So far this year, he has had a ground ball rate of under 30 percent.

Over the last few years, as more players have tried to change their swings to join the fly ball revolution, the common refrain from ball guy announcers is that those players are DROPPING THEIR BACK SHOULDERS and using LAUNCH ANGLE SWINGS. To be sure, there’s no such thing as a LAUNCH ANGLE SWING at least no more than there is a VELOCITY THROW for pitcher. So what can players do to increase their aerial assault without being accused of swinging for the fences?

One of the biggest factors in creating more elevation for Buxton has been his ability to keep from rolling his top hand right after contact.

If you watch his 2018 swing, you will often see patterns that resemble a tennis swing that imparts top spin on the ball as his wrists prematurely roll over. Comparatively this year’s swing he is over exaggerating the follow through to keep his wrists from breaking -- Buxton gets extension in his swing as he moves the bat forward at the pitcher rather than pulling around immediately.



Attached Image: unnamed.gif

This is another angle showing how well he keeps from rolling:



Attached Image: 2019-05-20_0-40-14.gif

The results have been that Buxton has hit more balls in the air this year (17 degree launch angle coupled with just a 26 percent ground ball rate).



Attached Image: Buxton Grounders.png

There’s another driver that has also allowed Buxton to remain flexible in his swing and that is creating space.



Attached Image: Buxton Front Arm.png

In 2018 Buxton demonstrated the tendency to keep his lead arm close to his chest at contact, leaving little space and, with it, lost some adjustability. Pitchers would frequently blow Buxton up with velocity on the inner third with the center fielder unable to get the barrel to the part of the zone once he started his swing. However, if you start with spacing, hitters are more able to adapt to pitches in other areas of the zone. Now, rotating his shoulders and arms as one big triangle, Buxton has spacing between his chest. This provides a better connected swing that goes beyond just arms and hands, an ability to adjust as well as allows the barrel to stay on plane longer, according to the Twins’ minor league hitting coordinator Pete Fatse.



Attached Image: 2019-04-18_13-43-33.gif

In summation, Buxton is creating more power by creating a stretch point and harnessing tension in his midsection. He’s generating more line drives and fly balls but extending his swing through the contact point and not rolling over. And last, he’s added spacing in his swing that gives him some adjustability to conquer either side of the plate.

Buxton’s career has been a strange one. He is supremely talented but has not established a long enough stretch of performing at the elite level to match his prospect status. If he can stay healthy and avoid crashing into too many walls or teammates, Byron Buxton of 2019 could finally live up to everyone’s expectation.

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46 Comments

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Old Twins Cap
May 20 2019 06:05 AM

Very interesting look at Buck's hitting mechanics.

 

Not sure if I know enough to validate the ins and outs, but certainly something has changed.

 

My view is that there was more change upstairs than anywhere, which is always a big factor in hitting a baseball.

 

He looks calm, he sees the ball better, his swing is smooth and efficient, and yet powerful. He belongs.

 

A pitcher can still get him out down and away or hard up, but, that's true with most players.

 

He ain't a pushover anymore, and he isn't afraid of who he might be as a ballplayer, which means -- he a man.

    • Jerr, DocBauer and Minny505 like this

His mechanics certainly look cleaner. 

 

With a cleaner swing, it's possible he is getting a better look, with a better look, he is swinging at better pitches. Swinging at better pitches leads to harder hit balls and less strikeouts. 

 

Tell Lavelle that he shouldn't argue with you. 

 

 

 

 

    • Jerr, blindeke, DocBauer and 3 others like this
He does look much better. I still think his hands are too high making his swing longer than necessary
    • gil4 likes this
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LimestoneBaggy
May 20 2019 07:15 AM

Did the changes come with a frozen yogurt? 

    • GCTF, woolywoolhouse and Drew like this

There's more of Buxton, too.He's clearly added to his frame.More mass means more velo.His stance looks slightly more open and his hands and shoulders move less.In this 2018 vid, he dropped his left shoulder more.Perhaps it was to reach a low pitch, I can't tell.Better hand control has helped deal with the inside pitch.If Bux reverts to bad habits, Parker will be getting a phone call, interesting work, thank you.

    • Jerr likes this

 

Very interesting look at Buck's hitting mechanics.

 

Not sure if I know enough to validate the ins and outs, but certainly something has changed.

 

My view is that there was more change upstairs than anywhere, which is always a big factor in hitting a baseball.

 

He looks calm, he sees the ball better, his swing is smooth and efficient, and yet powerful. He belongs.

 

A pitcher can still get him out down and away or hard up, but, that's true with most players.

 

He ain't a pushover anymore, and he isn't afraid of who he might be as a ballplayer, which means -- he a man.

Better mechanics would certainly clear his head.Knowing your swing is bad will not help your confidence.

I laugh every time I hear a reporter say that Buck should have been brought up in September.He flat out did not deserve a call up and I applaud the organization for making him realize that his place is not a given.It is so lazy to tie his status to "service time".Obviously the club would have preferred that he would be raking the last 3 years at the major league level.

    • by jiminy, 70charger, Otwins and 2 others like this

Read Tony Gwynn's book. To adjust and then hit change of speed pitches one's front foot must be planted before starting the hands.It not only works, it is absolutely necessary to be prepared to hit a fastball, but then adjust to drive a slower, change-of-speed pitch.The technique absolutely decreases strikeouts and increases hard-hit rates. You mentioned that as well as the rubber-band effect which also results.

    • birdwatcher, MN_ExPat and IAMNFan like this

He's laying off the pitches down-and-away. He's not swinging through pitches down the middle. Let's see LaVelle dispute that.

    • USAFChief, birdwatcher, Jerr and 3 others like this

 

He's laying off the pitches down-and-away. He's not swinging through pitches down the middle. Let's see LaVelle dispute that.

That's the biggest change, and most encouraging, IYAM.

    • ashbury, gil4 and Nine of twelve like this
Sure he looks better but is he hitting righties better? Someone needs to pull up those stats.
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Parker Hageman
May 20 2019 08:27 AM

 

He's laying off the pitches down-and-away. He's not swinging through pitches down the middle. Let's see LaVelle dispute that.

 

He's actually swinging through about the same amount of breaking balls down/away this year. The bigger difference is that he's not getting to two-strike counts as frequently because he is hitting pitches middle-in earlier in the count, as you mentioned. 

 

In limited time last year he was 1-for-11 on the first pitch (.091). This year he's 11-for-24 (.458). Last year he finished ABs in hitter's counts in just 22% of his total plate appearances. This year he's finished ABs in favorable counts in 32% of his plate appearances. 

 

Likewise, 56% of his plate appearances last year went to 2-strike counts. This year it's down to 43%. 

 

 

    • USAFChief, Jerr, LimestoneBaggy and 8 others like this
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NapoleonComplex
May 20 2019 08:41 AM

Of all this incredible analysis, my one take away is our wives are of similar taste: "...on again/off-again Ross-and-Rachel relationship."

 

Unless of course you're the Friends fan of the house?

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Aerodeliria
May 20 2019 09:00 AM
Very interesting stuff. I think your point about rolling the hands over upon contact is the the most significant difference. It's hard to say if this is the final version of the Buxton stance, but at least at the moment,it seems to be working.

The swing seems shorter and simpler. Not sure it's generating "further" hits yet...the HR rate is actually slightly below where it was from 2015-2017. But that can change as Buxton learns how to generate the power with the lower half. Garver (very short right-handed swing) seems to have figured that out. Buxton can as well.

 

He also simply seems to be recognizing pitches better, and guessing less. But again, that's easier when the swing is shorter and you don't have to commit as early. The BABiP is higher than it's been in his career, but not ridiculously so at 343.

He's actually swinging through about the same amount of breaking balls down/away this year.

It would probably be too small of a sample to slice and dice, but I wonder about this in relation to the count. I don't hold a bad swing at a low outside pitch totally against a batter when it's two strikes - sometimes there's no good choice - and in my "eye test" I might be discounting those. It's the "unforced error", where a batter swings lamely at a first-pitch slider in the dirt that I felt to be the Buxton trademark last year, and I think that's where he's now able to lay off.

 

But that's why people keep the numbers on these things, to avoid the selective memory that I am relying on.

    • MN_ExPat likes this
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Parker Hageman
May 20 2019 09:11 AM
The swing seems shorter and simpler. Not sure it's generating "further" hits yet

 

 

Should put a disclaimer on that: When he puts the ball in the air, he is hitting the ball further.

 

2016: 279 feet

2017: 283 feet

2018: 280 feet

2019: 303 feet

    • ashbury, USAFChief, Jerr and 4 others like this

He also simply seems to be recognizing pitches better, and guessing less.

Or guessing better, with experience. I think he mentioned looking for a fastball which he hit that grannie the other night. Of course, "looking" and "guessing" aren't quite the same thing, more of a continuum. :)

    • MN_ExPat and jkcarew like this
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ToddlerHarmon
May 20 2019 09:29 AM

Hmm. The three items you notice: the bottom hand not drifting early, the top hand not turning early, and the bottom arm not folding in to the body, all could be indicative of more relative strength in his bottom (left) arm and wrist. Strength training can eliminate strength asymmetry. Buxton is noted for his powerful (right) throwing arm. Are the improvements due to his left arm getting stronger and catching up?

 

Plus, what was the name of the magic cow?

 

    • ashbury and nicksaviking like this

 

As noted this spring, Buxton adjusted his mechanics to create separation from his top half and lower half. Previously Buxton would step and swing in one motion. It was a constant drift forward which denied him time to recognize a pitch as well as build tension. Now, when he steps forward, his hands go back and hold for a nanosecond. This creates resistance. This move helps reduce slack in his midsection, giving him a rubber band effect between his hands and his front leg. There’s stored tension in his abdomen at his launch point that helps connect the energy in his lower and upper half.
 

 

I have always thought this was a source of problems... hands moving forward with the stride instead of moving back. 

 

 

 

Sure he looks better but is he hitting righties better? Someone needs to pull up those stats.

 

.252/.312/.496 vs RHP in 2019: OPS .808

.234/.284/.408 vs RHP career: OPS .693

 

so far this season he is destroying LHP (OPS of 1.026) in a small sample. Career, he's shown almost no platoon split. It will be interesting to see where that lands by season's end with a more representative sample on the LHP.

 

The approach looks great this year. Every time I see him lay off that damn low & away slider and made good contact on balls in the zone, I start to believe.

    • Twins33 and MN_ExPat like this

 

Should put a disclaimer on that: When he puts the ball in the air, he is hitting the ball further.

 

2016: 279 feet

2017: 283 feet

2018: 280 feet

2019: 303 feet

Get it. He's putting the ball in the air a bit more...and he's making contact toward the barrel more consistently. So, ON AVERAGE, the ball is traveling further. Seems real and material. But the point I was trying to make was...that often when you simplify/shorten the swing (eliminate leg kicks, other triggers etc.) you diminish the ability to hit the ball over the fence...for a period of time, as you adjust. This seems to have been the case with Buxton, particularly for the first several weeks of the season. But he's showing signs of figuring out that part of it, as well.

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Cap'n Piranha
May 20 2019 10:04 AM

I think an underrated aspect has also been the ability to go out every day and play.Reps mean improvement, more reps means more improvement.

 

He's still better against lefties (1.026 OPS) than righties, but his .808 OPS against righties is quite good.He's doing very well when pulling the ball (1.362 OPS), and has actually thrived in high leverage situations (1.681 OPS)

    • bluechipper and DocBauer like this
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Parker Hageman
May 20 2019 10:46 AM

 

Did the changes come with a frozen yogurt? 

 

it makes me happy when people get the simpsons references.

    • LimestoneBaggy, James and woolywoolhouse like this

Great analysis, as always, Parker.

 

Buxton has worked hard to improve his swing, he's healthy and now he's confident at the plate. A great combination.

    • Jerr and Nine of twelve like this
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Parker Hageman
May 20 2019 10:47 AM

 

Of all this incredible analysis, my one take away is our wives are of similar taste: "...on again/off-again Ross-and-Rachel relationship."

 

Unless of course you're the Friends fan of the house?

 

i wouldn't say i'm a fan as much as i would say i fully lived hard through that pop culture phenomenon and i don't have any fresh references. 


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